In October 2016, a professor from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand submitted a research paper to an academic conference – written entirely using the autocomplete function on his Mac.
Christopher Bartneck, who is an associate professor at the Human Interface Technology Laboratory, received an invite to the ‘International Conference on Atomic and Nuclear Physics’ – a topic unrelated to his field.
“Since I have practically no knowledge of nuclear physics, I resorted to the iOS autocomplete function to help me write the paper,” said Bartneck. “I started a sentence with ‘atomic’ or ‘nuclear’ and then randomly hit the autocomplete suggestions. It was titled ‘Atomic energy will have been made available to a single source’, and I illustrated it with the first graphic on the Wikipedia entry for nuclear physics.”
Bartneck’s completely nonsensical paper was accepted, because the event he was invited to was what has been referred to as a ‘fake conference’. Fake conferences are commercial ventures posing as academic or association events, in the hopes of receiving paper submission and registration fees from academic professionals.
Fake news, real problems
The proliferation of fake conferences is just one of the problems which is causing a disconnect between the meetings industry and the academic world.
These two institutions should be fast friends, but many professors and researchers view events as needless distractions or — even worse — as scams. Thomas Trøst Hansen (pictured below), who is writing a pHD on the subject titled ‘Academic events (and their impacts)’, says: “The meetings industry is a key infrastructure for academia. It’s necessary for a strong scientific community. But academic conferencing is severely underdeveloped when compared to, say, academic publishing.”
Hansen is partnering with Wonderful Copenhagen, the tourist board for the Danish capital, on a new project that is intended to help bridge the gap. The Copenhagen Legacy Lab is an initiative that will use workshops to link together the organisers of academic association events with research communities, businesses and public authorities. It is an attempt to harness the collective wisdom of everyone who has already held an association event in the city of Copenhagen, and use it to create positive, lasting legacies for those coming down the pipeline.
“It is important that we can measure and encourage meaningful legacy from association events,” says Hansen. “Many events nowadays talk about legacy, but what they really mean is putting a beehive on the roof of a venue, then moving on to the next one. A well-organised and informed event can persuade academics to relocate to a city, spark innovative ideas and build powerful social networks.”
Great power, great responsibility
Another meetings industry player which has put the power of legacy front and centre is the ICC Sydney in Australia.
Its latest campaign is titled ‘More Than a Venue’, and aims to highlight the many benefits that association events can bring to clients, delegates and the local community. ICC Sydney CEO Geoff Donaghy says: “Our dedicated corporate social responsibility (CSR) representative partners with clients to identify problems and match solutions to social and sustainable issues, unique to each event.
“Since our Legacy Programme launched in 2017, we have successfully delivered a number of tangible outcomes for the Sydney community. One example is from the Australian Clean Energy Summit held in July this year, where local university students were asked to address a conference topic featured as part of the summit’s programme. A selection of the submissions were chosen to be displayed in the event’s key networking areas, giving students an opportunity to present their ideas to delegates and immerse themselves amongst industry professionals.”
There is a strong focus in Sydney on using meetings as a tool to help build communities. The ICC is a AUD$1.5bn (£808m) piece of infrastructure in the Australian capital, and Donaghy says this brings with it certain social responsibilities: “We are delivering beyond our economic and financial obligations, and with these achievements comes great opportunity to further contribute to our incredible city.
“By engaging clients with our Legacy Programme, we are opening up the opportunity to deepen our impact on the local community, and provide a lasting legacy that can be felt long after clients and delegates have returned home.”
Creating positive change
Association events are often gatherings of some of the brightest minds in any given field. With the collective brain power of everyone at an association conference, the potential to create a positive change in the world at large, or in local communities, is huge.
But the specialised nature of these events can often work against them. Getting the right people involved, and spreading information beyond the halls of a conference venue, requires communication. It requires the academic and association worlds to work in close collaboration, and to tell their stories in a way that is easy to digest.
If venues and destinations can follow the examples being set in Copenhagen and Sydney, their association events can have a lasting legacy — one that goes beyond simply putting a beehive on the roof.